I like jeans and sweatshirts or shorts and t-shirts. I rarely go anywhere that I need to wear more. There was an upcoming wedding. Not just any wedding. I’m the Mother-of-the-Groom and will be forever more in photo albums and on Facebook. I figured that this may be the last time in my life that I have to wear a dress. I am not a shopper. What to do?
I was telling Farm Club friends the story of the dress I wore to my oldest son’s wedding seven years ago. There was an “aha” moment…I’ll do it again. Here is the story.
This is our wedding day in 1986. We got married at the dairy where we lived and worked and I made Dan’s and Matt’s matching shirts. I don’t remember where I got the dress but it wasn’t a “wedding dress”. It was just a white dress that fit me.
This is Matt’s wedding many years later. I’m wearing the same dress. I dyed it and made a shawl to go with it.
When my daughter got married a few years later the wedding was to be an outdoors wedding in Vermont in the fall. Based on normal weather patterns I chose a wool dress and boots and made a chenille shawl. There was a heat wave and I probably could have used the same dress but who knew?
My aha moment came when I realized that I could use this dress for another wedding. I like the dress and it fits me and I Don’t Have to Shop. Why not?
The wedding colors were navy blue and yellow. The bridesmaids and the Mother-of-the-Bride were all wearing navy blue. I was discussing colors with a friend and she offered to help me dye the dress with indigo. Realize that we’re about 5 weeks from the wedding date at this point. Dottie brought a car-load of supplies. She put indigo in a tea strainer and we watched the water turn color. We also noticed a metallic sheen on the water and weren’t sure what to do about that. We forged ahead……sampling with cotton fabric that Dottie had brought with her. The metallic stuff showed up on the fabric but it seemed that we could wipe it off easily.So we went ahead with the dress. When dyeing with indigo you don’t want to stir up the dye bath because indigo dyeing relies on a chemical reaction as the fabric comes out of the dye and reacts with oxygen. If you introduce oxygen into the dye bath you lose some of the effectiveness of the indigo.When you bring something out of an indigo bath it is green at first.As it reacts it turns blue. Usually you rely on several dips to darken the color, but this one came out fairly dark the first time. However, we saw unevenly dyed areas where I had been too careful about lowering the dress into the bath and the dye didn’t get into the folds. There was also that metallic stuff in spots. I decided to hose the dress off (no pictures at this point) and see what it looked like. Not good. Very splotchy and not in a good way. So I tried again, this time stirring the dress in the pot with my hands. It was more important to get an even dye job than to save the dye bath for later.Here is the final product. But we weren’t done. There was another step and that was a surprise to me. First though the dress had to be completely dry, so that step was going to have to wait until later.No, one of us didn’t grow an extra hand. Dottie came with a friend who took some of these photos while we were working.
The next step involved a process that indigo expert, John Marshall, describes in a booklet about using soy milk when dyeing with indigo.
This seemed very involved and I put it off about a week but knew that I had better get moving because it was a lengthy process. Dottie had brought soaked soybeans and I had put them in the freezer. I thawed them and followed the instructions in the booklet to prepare soy milk. I put the soaked beans in the blender and added water.
After blending I poured the mixture into a cloth lined colander. This process is repeated three times, adding water each time to make more soy milk.
Eventually I had a bucket with enough soy milk to cover the dress.
This is the leftovers from the process (which, by the way, I fed to the chickens).
I soaked the dress and put it on a hanger. The dress was supposed to cure for a minimum of two to three weeks to ensure that any leftover indigo would not “crock” or come off. (Picture washing brand new jeans with white things and the dye running…or me hugging the bride and leaving streaks of blue on her dress.) Time was running out and about a week before the wedding I dunked the dress in a bucket of water with synthrapol (a detergent that is meant to attach to unfixed dye particles). Low and behold, there was very little discoloration of the water. Dottie, you nailed it!
The big day arrived and the dress was just fine. You can’t tell from this photo but I belted it with a silk scarf that one of my Farm Club friends dyed with our eucalyptus leaves. I chose shoes that matched the sash and when I looked back at the other wedding photos I realized that I was wearing the same shoes that I wore at Matt’s wedding!